A Monument to Service: The Cuyahoga County Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument

By Tim Daley and Richard T. Prasse
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2015, All Rights Reserved

The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument commemorates in stone, bronze and glass the service of those enlisted and appointed from Cuyahoga County during the Civil War. Their names are captured in marble inside the Monument’s Memorial Tablet Room, etched alongside those with whom they served during the national struggle. The story of the Monument’s creation was also a struggle. The idea to erect a monument was first proposed by William Gleason in October 1879 to the Soldiers and Sailors Society in Cleveland. Gleason with two others were charged to test the idea the following week at a reunion of Union Veterans. The project was approved with a committee appointed to seek funding support from the State of Ohio. Their advocacy resulted in eight different legislative acts by 1894 in support of the construction of the Monument.

Levi Scofield

With funding provided for, a Union Army Veteran, Levi Scofield, was selected to develop the plan. Scofield had served in the war as an officer in the 103rd O.V.I., fighting in the Western Theater. Returning to Cleveland after the war, he became an architect, responsible for the design of large public works such as the Ohio State Penitentiary, the Ridges Institution in Athens, Ohio and the Mansfield Reformatory (made famous as the prison in the movie The Shawshank Redemption). For this project, Scofield worked for expenses, never charging a fee for his services. However, local objections slowed down the plan. Returning to the Ohio General Assembly, the committee was replaced in 1888 by an appointed Monument Commission, which today remains the body responsible for the use and control of the Monument and the southeast quadrant of Public Square in Cleveland. The battle for approval and construction wound its way to the Ohio Supreme Court which approved the General Assembly’s power to delegate the authority to the Monument Commission. A later attack in Federal Court also resulted in victory for the veterans and the Monument. The more complete story on the Monument’s construction and labor pains has been told by Bill Stark in the Ohio Historical Society’s Timeline in February 2003 under “Legal Maneuvers.” Reprints are available at the Monument.

Once the legal battles were won, the site preparation and construction began in earnest with the removal of the Oliver Hazard Perry statue in December 1892. The Monument was formally dedicated on July 4, 1894 with veterans (6,000 marched in the accompanying parade), dignitaries galore, clergy, choirs and bands.

The Cuyahoga County Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument

One hundred and twenty years later, those veterans would recognize their Monument honoring their service to the nation and their principles. The interior has been renovated to recapture the vibrant colors now accented by museum-quality lighting. The marble tablets and life size bronze reliefs have been cleaned and returned to their original colors. The lighting has been updated to highlight the surrounding busts. The project, led by the then Monument Commission President Neil Evans, was supported by Cuyahoga County, the State of Ohio, and a long list of foundations, organizations, and individuals. Former County Architect Berj Shakarian (now a member of the Monument Commission) recalls: “Scofield’s original idea for the Monument was that it have a lot of color and ornamentation. … Here was a place that was meant to celebrate everyone in the county who had served in the Union, not just those who had died. We understand this to be a different kind of memorial, one that commemorates life and color.”

The Monument itself, beyond the Memorial Room, is an important representation of the late-Victorian era with textured stone and masonry designed with symmetry and decorated with military symbols instead of classical motifs. The exterior honors the Navy, Artillery, Infantry, and Cavalry service branches with its four main bronze statuary groupings surrounding the Monument on the south, east, north and west, respectively. The stained glass windows on each side incorporate the arms and accoutrements of those four groupings and are visible from inside and out.

However, the Monument does not stand alone. Instead, it is set apart by its lower Court of Honor encircled and decorated by its gardens with plantings of medals of service, corps badges and organizational shields. These both continue the story of service and separate the Monument from the day-to-day life of Public Square.

Today, as when opened 120 years ago, the Monument is in the center of the City but separated forever by its purpose of honor, meaning and reflection on service of 9,000 veterans from our County. As we move forward with the redesign and updating of Public Square, the Monument Commission has encouraged many changes to the design to maintain the Monument’s special place. It’s Court of Honor and gardens will be redesigned and renovated, its quadrant will flow within the new design, but its legal separation will be maintained allowing for the purpose of the Monument to be continued through as yet unknown renovations sought by future leaders of our City and County. This Monument to service by its generation is designed to be here for the future to remember in perpetuity.

Tim Daley is the Executive Director of the Monument Commission; Richard Prasse serves as its President.

Related links:
The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument website
Well Done
Cleveland Fights the Civil War
The Last Civil War Veterans From Cuyahoga County
Whatever Happened to Camp Cleveland?
The 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry